I had no idea what a lunette is, but I clicked on the link and found a nice description of it, some photos, and some history. That was enough for me to take off in search of it. Finding it wasn't very hard. It's on Polk Avenue, between the fairgrounds and Murfreesboro Pike, and it's the only large strange earthen thing in an otherwise industrial area. You simply can't miss it.
The lunette is best viewed by the sure-footed, and I would recommend bringing a buddy, if only so there's someone to keep you company should you fall and injure yourself and have to wait on the paramedics. But, if you're any kind of Civil War buff, you simply must take the time to search this out. The view is incredible. Even from street level, St. Cloud Hill (where Fort Negley is) is easy to make out, as is the hill where Fort Casino was. I also suspect that in the fall, when the leaves are down, you might be able to make out the hill where Fort Morton stood.
But here's the thing I can't quit thinking about. If not for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, we wouldn't have this site. It had already been partially destroyed by the widening of the railroad bed. and the location of the abatis looks to me to now be partially under Polk Avenue. Everything that's still there and still preserved is because of them.
And yes, their material is a little gloating with all the, "All we want is to be left alone" rhetoric. But if not for them, this incredibly important piece of black history would be lost. As the BNPS site says:
It is difficult to record the full meaning of the Battle of the Lunette without recognizing how it was impacted by the relatively rare occurrence of the racial make-up of the combatants. The “Colored Brigades” were heavily represented by former slaves seeing their first combat, while most of their all-white opponents were also seeing black Union soldiers for the first time.
See what I'm getting at? The whole "All we want is to be left alone" rhetoric makes sense coming, as it did, from Jefferson Davis. But there were plenty of Southerners, Tennesseans, Nashvillians, who didn't view the Civil War as a civil war or even a war between the states, but as a war for their very freedom. That others didn't see it that way is true.
That doesn't mean that we shouldn't know it. And that's what I ended up appreciating most about the Sons of Confederate Veterans' handout. If you were coming there looking for an accounting of what happened to the Colored Brigades in that spot, you'd find it. The Second Colored Brigade occupied works just north of the area during the battle.
The First's fate was more gruesome. The flier quotes a solder who wrote, "Little did [the First Brigade] dream that every step they took toward the breastworks was watched by angry eyes and twitching fingers on gun triggers, men only waiting the signal to exterminate them." And they pretty much did. At least 800 of the Union soldiers died.
And the Third Brigade fell apart under heavy fire.
It's difficult to tell a story in which you need to feel like your side has been accurately represented, and that lets the descendants of the men who fought against you feel like they have an honest accounting of what happened to those men, but I think this does just about as good a job as you can hope for.
Still, when I was there, I wished that there were more and better interpretive signs. And I'm sure there must be archaeologists who would love to get in there and see what could be found.
And yet, you know, I kind of also feel like, well, fuck it. It's not like this thing wasn't around for 140 years before the Sons of Confederate Veterans saved it. Same with the things that the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society rescued. It was all there, and at any time, Nashville or the state or the National Park Service could have stepped in and said, "This is worth preserving" — and with only very rare exceptions, they failed to do that.
Since taxpayer funded entities didn't step up to the plate, this taxpayer feels like sitting around wishing for cash-strapped private institutions to do more is kind of out of bounds.
And the Battle of Nashville preservation failure is indicative of a general Nashville trend of tearing down, paving over, and neglecting anything that stands in the way of progress. It wouldn't be enough for us, as a city, to just reckon with our Civil War heritage. We'd have to reckon with our relationship to history in general.
We can't save everything, but we need to do better jobs of asking not just what do we need from the past, but what will our children and grandchildren need?
And that's not for there to be only new stuff.